Years ago, I took a quiz to better understand the strengths in which God equipped me. After all, who doesn't want to know what they're good at, right? Admittedly, I was pretty skeptical of what the outcome might be. But to my surprise the results were right on. The quiz was from Gallup's Strengthsfinder. For me the end all wasn't the results, but that someone saw something in me. In this case, Gallup saw something in me through a strategic and well-designed test. As silly as it sounds, those results encouraged me and gave me vision to pursue those God-given strengths and abilities.
Over the past 20 years I've learned many things in leadership and one of the most vital things I've learned is how to identify and develop potential leaders. In my area of ministry, worship leadership has been my focus.
Whether you are on staff at a church or a high level volunteer that serves in a leadership role, you are responsible for growing your team. Because life and ministry gets busy, it can become easy to stay focused on current circumstances. But when you focus on the "here and now," you will never reach the "there and tomorrow."
Before we jump in, one thing I stress over and over to my teams is that every one of us is leading in some capacity. Regardless of whether you are playing an instrument in the band, operating a camera for IMAG, running lyrics or singing through a microphone, you are helping to provide an engaging atmosphere of worship for the congregation. We all have a responsibility to invest into the overall worship experience. But for the purpose of this article, when I talk about “worship leaders,” I am referring to the primary team leader.
1. Recognize leadership potential
I know this seems like "duh!" But good leaders don't just recognize strong leadership in others. They also see the potential one has to be a leader. You must see beyond where someone is to where they could be. Who, on your team, has potential beyond where they are at? Start there. Are you hurting for worship leaders? Who are the vocalists that have the leadership potential to become worship leaders? On our team, we have a separate audition process for a worship leader than we do for a vocalist. The stakes are higher and not just vocally. A worship leader must have more than charisma and a good voice. They must have the presence of leadership in them, the gift to lead people spiritually as well as musically. It’s important that your primary leaders have the ability to command a room regardless of the size of your church. This doesn’t mean they’ve arrived. Scripture is filled with examples of God using individuals who were still being developed. However, God saw the undeveloped presence of leadership in them and made the investment.
God always provides a leader but sometimes they are undiscovered. The fact is that we are all undiscovered in the beginning and God uses others to discover the potential in us. Not just worship leaders but band leaders, vocal leaders, production leaders, etc. Take a good look at your team and consider whom, from within, has what it takes to be a future leader.
2. Provide leadership opportunities
Without leadership opportunities, you will never develop strong leaders. I have seen this done in various ways over the years. My theory on opportunities is that risks are critical in the development of young leaders. I served in a large, prominent church for two and a half years. Their motto of development was to rarely give someone opportunity in the main auditorium until they had proven themselves over and over in smaller venues like student ministries. While I don't fully disagree with this mindset, the fact was, young leaders were seldom ready in the eyes of that leadership. Therefore, it resulted in stunting the growth of some who were ready but just needed the chance, even the chance to grow through failure. When we believe our services are at such a high level that we can't take calculated risks in developing new leaders, we have our priorities out of place. It's important that church leaders recognize that we are all part of the developmental process to help young leaders grow. Some of my most significant growth as a worship leader happened when, early in ministry, my senior pastor sat me down and gave me his perspective on my leadership. Senior (Lead) pastors, you have great influence on young worship leaders. Please don't consider yourself beyond investing into their potential. They could be your future worship pastor. That was the case with me and I'm thankful I was trusted with opportunities bigger than I was ready for at the time.
3. Say the difficult things
This is a vital part of mentoring and developing new leaders. I've seen this done really well over the years. I've also seen it done poorly. When we provide opportunity, it's imperative that we take the time to review and give constructive feedback. Each week, we record our worship services. Then, we send out a link to everyone involved for that weekend and encourage the team to review the video. For worship leaders, we talk through vocals, stage presence, facial expressions, talking between songs, etc. I always try and balance critique with encouragement. I never want a young leader to leave a review with their confidence shattered. My hope is that every time I sit down with a worship leader, they leave encouraged by what they did well and challenged by what they need to improve on.
This has been a learned lesson for me. I have the tendency to get right to the critiques, not because I like being mean or strict but it's my nature to get right to the point. I certainly don't sugarcoat things, but I see the importance of building confidence in a person before giving the difficult feedback.
4. Keep them accountable
Accountability is a non-negotiable. We must all be accountable to our bad habits and lack of preparation. Psalm 33:3 says, "Play skillfully; sing to Him a new song, and shout for joy." If you have a band member continually hitting bad notes, it's time you sit down with them and find out why. I may not hear some of the mistakes live because I'm focused on leading but when I review the video the next week, sometimes I’m surprised by what I hear. We need to be willing to call our musicians up to the standard we set for everyone. Then we will be able to determine if it's a preparation issue or an ability issue. If lack of preparation is the cause, that's easy to fix. If it's an ability issue, then you have several things to consider which we won't get into in this article.
Once, I auditioned a guitar player. His audition wasn't great. In fact, he struggled quite a bit and I wrestled with whether or not to accept him onto the team. He said he was just having a bad day and that the parts we were having him play were no problem. I took a chance on him. After several opportunities of playing in our student venues, I received consistent feedback from my worship leaders that he was struggling and it was a distraction. We recorded individual tracks each week so all I had to do was pull up the sessions he was playing and listen. I did. Not only did I listen, but I brought him in to listen with me. Some of you are tensing up just thinking about it. It was difficult, awkward and embarrassing for both of us. We were providing him opportunity but he wasn't rising to the occasion and I had to be honest with him. I didn't pull him from the team. I didn't stop scheduling him. What I was doing was bringing it to his attention and giving him the opportunity to improve. I was keeping him accountable. We must be willing to have these difficult conversations if we're going to help develop others.
5. Show your encouragement
Several years ago, I walked into a rehearsal and overheard one of our vocalists say to a new team member, “For a long time I never knew if I was doing a good job. Then I realized that if Sean doesn’t say anything, I’m doing fine…” Talk about a shot to the heart! She knew I was in the room and was light-hearted about it. But the reality was, she was right! For the first time, I realized this particular flaw in my leadership. Don’t get me wrong, I have many other flaws but this one had never been pointed out to me. I was good at telling others what they needed to improve but I hadn’t yet mastered the art of encouragement. In my mind, the team knew my expectations. For them to always be on time and prepared both musically and spiritually; for the guitarists to hit their lead lines, the drummer to play in time and the vocalists to blend. So why would I spend time commending people for doing exactly what they were expected to do? This vocalist was not upset or speaking negatively about me. She merely realized that my lack of encouragement didn’t mean she wasn’t cutting it. But for me, it was life changing for my personal leadership development.
These days, it’s rare that I don’t walk of stage and encourage the team, “Hey, great job everyone.” Then I try and follow it up with individual encouragement. It’s also common for me to thank the band and production team at the end of rehearsals, recognizing the time they invest each week. Even though they are doing what they committed to when they joined, I recognize the importance of team moral and confidence. We all need the encouragement and approval of the leader from time to time. As worship pastors and leaders, it’s our job to create an atmosphere of encouragement.
6. Lead them beyond the music
We are called to lead and develop people beyond their talent. If I developed leaders to be amazing vocalists and instrumentalists but ignored their need for spiritual growth, I have failed them as a leader. My role as a worship pastor is to help produce well-rounded leaders who understand the need for pastoral worship leadership; musically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally, etc. When we lead worship, we're more than musicians. We are teachers, theologians, ministers, encouragers and the list goes on. We must develop leaders that understand what they say is as important as what they play or sing. My desire is that any worship leader on my team can take over for me in my absence. If you are someone who desires to hang on to a worship leader title so that others feel your significance, you have weakened your team’s potential. We MUST be replaceable.
Take the time to teach your worship leaders how to exhort the congregation, understanding that everyone walks in the room at various stages of life. Any worship pastor understands how a congregation can chew worship leaders up and spit them out. We all know that people can be fickle. Congregations can love you one week and reject you the next. New worship leaders need to understand that they are usually not the problem. But as creative beings, we tend to walk off stage and gauge our success based solely off of people’s response. Not just our success in the 30-minute worship set we just played but our success as worship leaders in general. Discouragement is a trap of the enemy that has taken out way too many worship leaders. Develop your leaders to lead beyond the music and give them a sure foundation to stand on through the storms of leadership.
7. Develop a team mentality
As I mentioned before, I teach my teams that if you're on stage, you are leading in some capacity. Therefore, we are all required to play and sing joyfully. It's expected that, whether they are a backline instrumentalist or a frontline vocalist, every person on your team is important in leading the congregation into praise and worship. Not only on stage but all of production needs to have this mindset. If lyrics are done haphazardly and not taken serious, that will affect people who are trying to worship. If the video director is calling camera shots that don’t flow with the music, it will affect the congregation’s worship experience. If the audio engineer isn’t listening to the room and mixing appropriately, that will affect worship. Everyone must work together to help create an atmosphere that helps people participate. I love when I look out and my lighting tech is smiling and singing! There's power when our production is not just doing their job but engaged in worship.
Leading from a team mentality does a couple of things. First, it gives your team purpose beyond their talent. Second, it creates a unity that your congregation will recognize and be encouraged by. In scripture, God used armies of worshipers. When we start thinking it's about one person leading, we have set ourselves up for the enemy to wreak havoc and cause disunity.
Our individual expressions of worship can be a beautiful thing. Every drummer and guitar player has his or her flare. Every vocalist has his or her style. But when those things become bigger than the overall purpose of coming together to create one sound, then we've gotten off track.
8. Make sure they know you care
At the end of the day, your relationship with your team and those you are developing are the most important part of the process. If your team becomes great musicians and worship leaders but view you as a jerk, when they set off to pursue God's calling elsewhere, it will taint their overall view of leadership. Once again, I'd like to say I mastered this early in ministry. But no. My first worship leading position was with students. I was a professional drummer turned average guitar player and worship leader. I had a lot to learn. I moved from Nashville where I played with high-level musicians to working with students between the ages of 12-17 who were not professional by a long shot. It took me some time to realize that the expectations I had for these inexperienced students could not be the same as I had for professionals. We had fun and I loved them like my own, but I also had a hard nose side to my leadership. I bulldozed over them more times than I care to admit. It took me a while to realize it. I am thrilled to say that many of those students are friends and fellow worship leaders and pastors today! But I learned some great lessons in that season of ministry.
If those under our leadership understand that we love and care for them, they will receive much more from us. Does your team know you care? Do they know you love them regardless of how many times you have to sit them down and critique them? Remember, a person’s talent is very personal. As artists, it’s difficult to hear when we're not cutting it. We must balance it with love and grace as we lead them to a place of developed talent and spiritual maturity.
This list is certainly not an exhaustive strategy for developing leaders on your team but, over the years, I’ve learned that if I implement these eight things, it will help produce a growing team of leaders and prepare them to be successful in all that God has called them to.